Terrible ringtones, pocket dialling and Googling through dinner. Brits hate bad manners and our telephone habits are a particularly touchy subject. But is the modern mobile phone really to blame?
Bad telephone manners have ticked people off since phones first arrived on the scene, and we suspect the smartphone generation aren’t the first to mistreat the technology. If you look back through the history of telephone etiquette, you’ll see our phone manners always came with a rulebook.
Bad language on the line
On Britain’s early telephone lines, you’d need an operator to connect your call. But if you wanted to speak to someone, you had to be patient. Connecting could take around twenty minutes and operators would often cut speakers off as soon as they started to talk. People found telephones so frustrating that they blamed them for making callers use “profane language.” Knowing it was a nuisance, phone companies made a special request for callers to be patient and polite on the telephone.
If you wanted to make a call in the 1930s, you had to get in line. Telephone line access was shared locally on a ‘party line’, and you could only make one call at a time. When people were waiting, you had to keep it quick, and in 1934, phonebooks instructed "Don't say Hullo! Announce your identity" to cut down on precious call time. Sharing the same phone line also meant others could pick up the receiver and eavesdrop on your conversation, which was a big worry in wartime Britain when “furtive fritz” could be listening in.
By the 1960s, still only a quarter of people owned a home telephone. The cost of line rental was steep - around £100 a year for some - and most people used public payphones. But even in homes that could afford a phone, they weren’t always welcome. This new invasion of calls at home made them an “instrument of torture” and to avoid being disturbed for too long people were taught subtle ways to get callers off the line.
The statement mobile
The eighties saw the arrival of big hair and even bigger mobile phones. A steal at only £3000, the massive mobile was the height of fashion and something only the big city boys could afford. It was a decade that saw the London elite flaunt “transportable” phones with enormous battery packs, handhelds that needed two hands to carry them, and hidden compartment car phones complete with a spiral cord. This wasn’t an era of mobile etiquette, it was about whipping out your flashy mobile brick around as many people as possible, as often as possible.
Mobiles start multitasking
In the new millennium, we were told that “too much mobile phoning” would scramble the brain, along with computers, heaters and microwave ovens. But it didn’t stop the mobile becoming the nation’s must-have gadget. By 2011, people used mobiles more than landlines and today 71% of adults own a smartphone. Mobiles became the go-to device for browsing the internet, connecting over social media and taking photos – we even use it to make calls once in a while.
So, if you’re guilty of texting while talking, calling in good company or using a selfie stick in crowded spots, don’t blame the technology. Just mind your mobile manners.